To the old, memories of Harare are related to the restrictions along First Street by the white settlers during the colonial era.
Blacks were prohibited from using the street unless they had a temporary permit issued with limited time as stated on the face of it, usually reserved for messengers and cleaners.
After independence, the street became a rendezvous for entertainment as artistes would thrill entertainment and peace starved Zimbabweans, finally free from the shackles of colonialism.
Different artistes marked their journeys to fame from this popular street.
Some think that preachers pioneered using the street as a pulpits to preach the gospel. No, it was in fact solo guitarists like the late Jackson Chinembiri ‘Sinyoro’ of the Dzemagitare fame who started off from the previously prohibited First Street.
He used to entertain people enjoying their take-away lunches and others waiting for their loved ones at the pedestrian traffic only street.
Long beard and brown suits were his trademarks.
“First Street reminds me of the good old days, I used to meet my girlfriend in First Street were Sinyoro used to play his acoustic guitar. There were no cellphones then and we would make appointments to meet on First Street,” says Nyasha Panda.
First Street brought familiar radio voices to the people as they watched live musical performances for free.
Those who could not afford visiting movie houses sought entertainment along First Street and some even met their lifetime partners while enjoying entertainment on the street.
John White, who mostly performed in trains also met his fans in First Street rubbing off the infamous colonial memories.
“I was elated to meet John White in early 1980’s playing his acoustic guitar on First Street and I will never forget the day and that same day l met my boyfriend who is now my husband,” said Violet Sangana.
First Street’s entertainment history will not be complete without mentioning a magician popularly known as Wasu who was a regular entertainer then. He was famous for conjuring tricks of walking on a wire and lifting a piece of railway line using teeth.
Wasu also staged solo comedy coupled with diplomatic demand for money to conduct his tricks. He used to conduct his entertainment shows barefooted, shirtless, and sometimes in a tattered overalls.
“Wasu was a great entertainer, he asked for payment first before doing what he knew best. It was rare for me to get into town and leave without visiting First Street for entertainment and I enjoyed his jokes and how he would walk on a wire,” said Gibson Homera.
Freddy Manjalima popularly known as Kapfupi rose to fame on First Street with his street theatre dramas along with fellow actors Marabha and Jeffery Chikwesere popularly known as Aphiri before they were recognized by ZBC Tv. Theirs was a continuation of what used to happen soon after independence when First Street opened its gates to its own.
The liberation of the Zone explains why First street in a walking zone, which was the main reason whites prohibited blacks from using it, something that few bon frees know about. It was a colonial thing, yet its importance is enduring in more ways than one. Street shows and dramas were made for First Street.
Simbarashe Musaki – Own Correspondent